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Andrew Gibson - Ontology from the middle: knowing higher education from somewhere [PATHES & SCRG - University and ontology seminar series]
This talk argues for a particular form of engagement with ontology as it relates to higher education, and the university. Ontology as a mode of engaging with the world has been characterised as “a reduction of the other to the same by the interposition of a middle and neutral term” (Levinas 1969: 43). It is, as Levinas goes on to suggest, prone to a kind of “ontological imperialism” as it seeks to reduce otherness, to make ‘existents’ subordinate to ‘Being’ (44-5).

Starting from a reflection on ‘mastery’ in knowledge and knowledge that valorises mastery as its defining mode (Singh 2018), the question I want to engage with is how to proceed to engage with ontology for the university, while resisting imperializing impulses, and the urge to have mastery. Ontology as a form of mastery is already the standard mode of the university and its universalising tendencies. This can plausibly be connected to the contextless hailing of ‘excellence’ above all other concerns in higher education, an ontology that views things from the top – or doesn’t see them at all.

While is in part the home of those claiming ‘the view from nowhere’ (Nagel 1986), the university is also a source of the countervailing tendency. This is one which attends to the reality of existents – of those who exercise all senses. It is from this next point that I want to argue explicitly for an ‘ontology of the middle’, existing somewhere, and sometime. While I will draw on a variety of thinkers in order to build the argument, one notable resource here will be queer studies.

The conceptual work of those working in queer studies can point the way towards an ontology of particularity, one grounded in specificity and community – being in the middle of things, and time, and other beings. While “[i]t’s not easy to see things in the middle rather than looking down on them from above or up at them from below”, if we manage to position ourselves there, we’ll “see that everything changes” (Deleuze and Guattari, 2004

Feb 24, 2023 01:00 PM in Warsaw

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